20 Sep AUGUST – Be Grateful
Expressing thanks may be one of the simplest ways to feel better. My health resolution for this month was to develop my ability to enjoy the now. Not only was this a resolution, it was one of the commandments I wanted to live my life by. I aimed to build habits around gratitude and an appreciation for what I had. In my opinion (based on those people around me) many people are often heavily focused on what is going wrong in their lives. And rightfully so. Some people have it tough! I get that a string of bad events, illness, a break up or the loss of someone can throw someone so far out of whack that they have a hard time being positive. If we could work towards harvesting a greater appreciation for all that we do have, we may get better at appreciate the times that aren’t bogged down with events out of our control and perhaps we could train ourselves to see the brighter side of life during those dark times.
Life is better when you cry a little, laugh a lot and are thankful for everything you have got. Research conducted by Harvard University highlights that gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships. In one study, a group of people wrote about things they were grateful for that had occurred during the week. A second group wrote about daily irritations or things that had displeased them, and the third wrote about events that had affected them (with no emphasis on them being positive or negative). After 10 weeks, those who wrote about gratitude were more optimistic and felt better about their lives. Surprisingly, they also exercised more and had fewer visits to doctors than those who focused on sources of aggravation.
In light of this research, I made it my goal to record 3 things I was grateful for each day. It was my vision that I would also express gratitude to people in my life and try to be more grateful in the moment. I set aside a section in my trusty pink diary, equipped with 3 love hearts to record the 3 things I was most grateful for in my day. I tried to focus my attention on all the things I was fortunate to have, that others may lack. I remembered all the key point in my day that made me smile and noted events of people who made me happy. Some of the things I recorded throughout the month of August were:
I am grateful for….
Sleep, my job, Matt, my team at work, how I make people happy, my health, time to myself, the weather, Lily (my puppy), wine, yoga, my attitude, my friends, my family, positivity…
There is always, always something to be grateful for. Recording my 3 points of gratitude heightened my awareness at random points of my day. On my morning walks, I expressed inner gratitude for the fresh air, for the safety of my walking route and for the time to work through problems. I found myself taking big deep breaths and smiling as I braved the -2 winter snaps. One morning I noticed a pile of rubbish on the path, I stopped, picked it up and placed it in the next bin. Not only did I feel as though I was doing some kind of service to the environment, I took a second to be grateful for it. Funnily enough, I started to notice the amount of rubbish and waste left lying around after that day and made conscious efforts to clean it up as I passed. Following on from this, my husband and I had a number of chats about how we can do our part to look after the environment. Our trip to Bali the month before shone an alarming spotlight on the amount of waste humans dump everyday (something along the lines of 3 million plastic bottles a month!) We talked about the amount of plastic bottles we bought, the endless amounts of coffee cups, plastic bags and unnecessary packaging. We made our own mini resolution to reduce the amount of waste we add to landfill each month we used. We decided to ditch coffee in takeaway cups, invested in ‘Keep Cups, we even started our own compost heap!!! What I learnt from this is that expressing gratitude doesn’t always have to be to towards people, we can express inner gratitude in a myriad of ways.
Expect nothing, but appreciate everything. I can’t tell you how many amazing people I have in my life! I have friends who regularly drop what they are doing and help me out. I have a phenomenal sister who will go out of her way to proofread assignments and job applications aplenty. My husband literally keeps my head afloat everyday and asks nothing in return and I work within a profession where people regularly offer assistance and favours. I am so overwhelmingly grateful for all of these people in my life and this month taught me a lot about how to express my gratitude. I am always one to offer thanks but I decided to formalise this process a little more. I went out of my way to search the internet for some cute ‘Thank you’ graphics and I printed out a bunch of them. I know that receiving a thank you note is always so much more special than words. As people did amazing favours for me, I acknowledged them with a handwritten note. A friend from work came gushing into my office one afternoon, note in hand and said “Thank you so much, this truly made my day!” I emailed my sister lengthy notes of thanks and highlighted exactly all the reasons why I am grateful to have her.
Gratitude is best recognised when you can be thankful for yourself, the world and others. Daily yoga was an excellent way to practice gratitude. It is embedded in the practice. Each day, I was grateful for the time I dedicated to myself and how it made me feel. During the final resting pose, I lay there thinking of all the things about myself and my life that I was lucky to have. This tied in well from my July resolution to ‘compliment myself’ as I found that being grateful for who I was and all that I had merged nicely. Moving forward into the future of this project as I continue to form solid habits around being grateful. Moving forward, I will continue to record 3 things I am grateful for. I also want to utilise times of stillness to be more grateful. Perhaps when I am washing my hair, or brushing my teeth. The use of reminders posted everywhere is probably my next step! In addition to being thankful to myself, I want to improve my ability to promote gratitude in others. I will plug being grateful into everyday conversations and pose questions to reframe negative thought patterns.
As I neared the end of July, I was checking in with a friend. She asked how I was, I instantly launched into the normal response. I told her about how snowed under I felt with lots of little things going on. I caught myself doing this mid sentence and hauled myself around a U-Turn and reframed my discussion with, “Listen, things are all over the place at the moment. There are lots of little things happening, but I am so happy it’s not one big thing!” She looked at me and smiled, then replied “Well, that’s a great attitude to have!”
Gratitude pulled me out of funks on a number of bad days. I would give myself these huge inner pep talks, “You are alive, you have a great life. Make today great.” Too often we forget how lucky many of us really are. There are people who are plagued with illness and genuine misfortune. I can’t help but think this “woe is me” attitude many people seem to adopt is really a product of their own inner self talk. An ongoing cold, lack of sleep, too much body fat, no boyfriend etc etc. In all honesty, this whining is wearing thin for me. Perhaps more people need to adopt their own commandments like: ‘act the way you want to feel,’ ‘be grateful,’ ‘love yourself.’ Rather than starting every new day focusing on all the things that are “going wrong” in your life. News flash – everyone has stuff going on! Everyone feels overwhelmed at times. Everyone feels sadness and anxiety to some degree. It is about how we approach and manage things. It is about gaining a little more perspective and outlook and moving through life differently. I am not perfect. I don’t follow this project to a tee. I don’t notice how amazing things are every day. But I TRY to. You’re not going to master the rest of your life in one day. Just relax. Master the day. Then keep doing that everyday. What it all comes down to is our ability to work at it. Everyone has one desire in common – to feel better. Those who work towards it are the ones who reap the rewards!